We're slowly approaching the ten-year anniversary of December 9th, 2005, the day that Brian VanGorder left his spot as linebackers coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars to take the position as head coach at Georgia Southern University. Among his first goals as head coach of the Eagles was to get rid of the spread option offense that had been installed by Georgia Tech's current head coach Paul Johnson. Johnson, of course, served as the offensive coordinator at GSU under legendary head coach Erk Russell back in the mid-1980s before returning as head coach from 1997 to 2001.
VanGorder felt it important to scrap the offense which had brought the 1985,1986, 1989, 1990, 1999, and 2000 D-IAA national championships to the program because he wanted to bring the program "into the 21st century". He felt that the system would be impossible to recruit to, and just wouldn't work at a high level of football. (And with only 6 national titles since the program's first varsity season in 1984, what reason did he have to think that it was a possibility?)
The comments that VanGorder made were very public in nature, and Johnson, then the head coach at Navy, caught wind of them. A very proud and competitive individual, Johnson called up an old friend from his Georgia Southern days, Roger Inman. He asked Inman to put him in contact with the Eagles' athletic director, so that he could arrange a game with them for his Midshipmen. According to Inman, when he asked why on Earth Johnson was so intent on playing a school like Georgia Southern, the answer was simple:
"Because I want to beat the Hell out of Brian VanGorder."
Unfortunately, that game never happened. VanGorder, shockingly, went 3-8 in his only season as the head coach in Statesboro (with Eagles fans disliking him more and more the whole time), before jumping ship to coach linebackers for the Atlanta Falcons in 2007. He stayed with the Falcons as a defensive coordinator from 2008 to 2011 before returning to the college ranks in 2012 as Auburn's defensive coordinator. That team (only two years after winning the 2010 national championship) went 3-9 and failed to win an SEC game, and the whole staff was, predictably, fired. He spent 2013 with the New York Jets as a linebackers coach before joining Brian Kelly's staff as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame in 2014.
In the meantime, Johnson completed his tenure with a 45-29 record in 6 years, including a 43-19 mark in his final 5 years. After the 2007 season, he left the Academy to be the head coach at Georgia Tech. On the Flats, he's had three 9-win seasons, won at least a share of the ACC Coastal Division title 4 times, taken the team to two Orange Bowls, and never finished below .500 in conference play.
Since Johnson made that phone call to Inman, he's been pretty busy with generally having more success than VanGorder has had during that time. And yet, through all of the noise and success, all of the ups and downs of his tenure at Georgia Tech, and all of the battles of his own that he's had to fight...
Johnson still hasn't forgotten.
This week, the stories from VanGorder's short stint in Statesboro have been resurfacing as he'll look to defend Johnson's offense for the first time since he made those comments nearly a decade ago. Johnson has made an effort in the media to downplay it as a story, saying he doesn't remember any comments specifically and doesn't have any hard feelings towards VanGorder. And, perhaps that's true.
I'm not buying it.
Remember what I said about Johnson being extremely proud and competitive?
This weekend, Johnson gets his first chance to show VanGorder just how successful his system can be at a high level of football, and you'd better believe he's going to take it. I can't say how the game will play out, and I personally expect it to be a close game from wire-to-wire. That said, keep an eye out -- if Georgia Tech is given an opportunity to put its foot on the throat of VanGorder's defense, they're going to take it in a heartbeat. If they get the ball again after stepping on the defense's throat, it's going to continue to get uglier. There will be no mercy if the opportunity presents itself. No prisoners will be taken.
He won't ever say as much, but make no mistake about it, Johnson would love nothing more than to prove a point this weekend in South Bend.
In Johnson's mind, it's time to put an end to something that's been ten years in the making.